Sat, Jan 18, 2020 - Page 1 News List

Plane tragedy must not eclipse loss of general: Khamenei

AFP, TEHRAN

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, center, leads a Friday prayer ceremony in Tehran yestserday.

Photo: EPA-EFE / Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader / Handout

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei yesterday called the accidental downing of a Ukrainian airliner a “bitter” tragedy, but said that it should not overshadow the “sacrifice” of a top commander killed in a US drone strike.

Khamenei was giving the sermon at the main weekly Muslim prayers in Tehran, after a traumatic month in which the country had appeared on the brink of war with the US and shot down the Ukrainian jet by mistake with the loss of all 176 people on board.

“The plane crash was a bitter accident, it burned through our heart,” Khamenei said in a speech punctuated by cries of “death to America” from the crowd.

“But some tried to ... portray it in a way to forget the great martyrdom and sacrifice” of major general Qassem Soleimani, head of the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force.

The last time Khamenei led Friday prayers at Tehran’s Mosalla mosque was in February 2012, on the 33rd anniversary of the Islamic revolution and at a time of crisis over Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

His latest appearance came at a tumultuous moment for the country, which had seemed headed for conflict earlier this month after the drone strike killed Soleimani outside Baghdad International Airport, prompting retaliatory Iranian missile strikes against Iraqi bases housing US troops.

The strikes, which caused significant material damage, wounded 11 US troops, US Central Command said on Thursday, contradicting previous reports from the US military of no casualties.

The tensions between Washington and Tehran have abated since Iran’s admission that it accidentally downed the Ukrainian airliner when it was on high alert after its retaliatory strikes against US targets in Iraq.

Most of those killed were Iranians and Canadians.

Khamenei accused Iran’s enemies of exploiting the tragedy for propaganda purposes.

“Our enemies were as happy about the plane crash as we were sad ... happy that they found something to question the [Revolutionary] Guards, the armed forces, the system,” Khamenei said.

The shooting down of the airplane triggered scattered protests in Tehran and other cities.

Praising Soleimani, Khamenei said that his actions beyond Iran’s borders were in the service of the “security” of the nation and that the people are in favor of “firmness” and “resistance” in the face of enemies.

“The few hundred who insulted the picture of general Soleimani, are they the people of Iran? Or this million-strong crowd in the streets?” Khamenei said.

He appeared to be referring to the reported tearing down of a portrait of the general by protesters in Tehran just days after hundreds of thousands of mourners turned out for his funeral.

Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Francois-Philippe Champagne on Thursday vowed to press Iran for answers about the tragedy.

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said that US President Donald Trump’s policies contributed to the heightened tensions that led to the catastrophe.

Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov yesterday urged a “de-escalation” of tensions between Iran and the US.

The airplane tragedy “is a very serious red flag and signal to start working on de-escalation, and not on constant threats and combat aviation flights in this region,” Lavrov said.

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